Let's forget the hype -- which is easy to do since it's coming from one of the five worst PR departments in all of professional sports -- and ponder the question directly:
What will have to happen for Sunday's 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500 to truly be the "Most Important Race in History?"
Another victory for Roger Penske? Paul Tracy winning and claiming justice for 2002? Vitor Meira or Bruno Junqueira giving A.J. Foyt the chance to again drink the milk? Graham Rahal or Marco Andretti following in the first-place footsteps of their family icons?
A record-tying fourth for Helio Castroneves? An Ed Carpenter upset that not only would put pregnant car owner Sarah Fisher in victory lane, but his step-father, Tony George, back in the spotlight? A darkhorse triumph by someone like Charlie Kimball? A "finally" for Tony Kanaan?
There is only one thing that would fit the bill and it's the obvious one:
A Danica win.
Will that happen?
Despite the speed struggles throughout Michael Andretti's team, her chances might be better than you think. She qualified 26th for her seventh go in IndyCar's version of the Big Go and has five top-10 finishes, including third in 2009. That history says Danica has a certain touch for the Brickyard, but it's the prospect of the 500 becoming a Junkyard that boosts her chances that much more.
Now, understand this. This will be my 35th I500 in six different decades (below, marking 33 races two years ago), I well remember and loved those classic 11 rows of three starts, and hated Brian Barnhart's single-file strung-out-to-Terre Haute instructions of recent years. Supposedly, BB has been told to go back to the old ways on Sunday. I'm all for it.
But it's more likely Jimmie Johnson will be a relief driver Sunday than it is you'll find more than a couple of racers who like Randy Bernard's new NASCAR-style double-file restarts. Just as there was a time when a rookie driver had to prove himself at tough ovals like Phoenix or Trenton before he could even get a Speedway test, I think it's incredible the IndyCar powers-that-be will experiment with this rule on an oval for the very first time at the Biggest (Most Important) Race of the Year (in History).
I'm no Carnac, but I predict carnage.
"I've heard comments these are supposed to be the best drivers in the world and all this kind of stuff, they can start two-by-two," defending winner Dario Franchitti said a few days ago. "Well, you can put the best driver in the world on marbles here, and I don't care who they are, they're going to hit the fence. That's the problem: The marbles (bits of tire rubber that collect near the outside wall) are the issue and the narrow groove here at Indianapolis."
Despite what the drivers say, Bernard says the fans have spoken, so the rule will stand. But I think anything is possible. If there are crashes-after-crashes on the double-wide restarts, will he tell Barnhart to change back to single-file in mid-race? Can you imagine how crazy, wild -- and dangerous -- double-wide will be if one is needed in the last 10 laps?
IF she can avoid all of that -- which will require some luck on running order so she can keep restarting on the botton line -- Danica could win a 500 that has five finishers.
The hypers would no doubt say, "See, we told you so, it WAS the Most Important Race in History."
Others, more objective, would call it an embarrassment.
As Newt Gingrich recently discovered, TV sound bites have a way of coming back to haunt you. IndyCar announcers who kept saying last weekend that "You can't imagine an Indy 500 without Danica Patrick" might well be bitten by those words come next year when she's in NASCAR.
A reminder to please get this Sunday's Arizona Republic, or go to http://www.azcentral.com/ to see the 1,800-plus word story on the history of Arizona racers in the Indy 500 that I co-wrote/reported with Mark Armijo. I learned a few things in working this project, and I think you will, too.
Here's a link to the story I did last week for CompetitionPlus.com on Kenny Bernstein remembering 1992, when Roberto Guerrero put his car on the pole. http://www.competitionplus.com/drag-racing/news/17655-bernstein-revels-in-indy-500-memory
Please go to CompetitionPlus.com later this week for another drag racing-theme story I did. One of the Indy 500's most successful competitors has his roots in drag racing -- a little known fact.
Reminder: I will blog from Indy starting Thursday.